ENERGY AND ECOSYSTEMS
This chapter begins by lamenting the human impact on the environment and the constant changes to the environment as a direct consequence of human existence. However, when I read this type of writing (and others like it), I always question why the writer considers human beings as something distinct from the environment. Humans are a part of nature, and alterations to existing environments by organisms prevalent in nature happens ever single day. Species are driven to extinction in areas by a number of factors, and human beings are not the only catalyst for such drastic change.
The author writes that the rippling extinction of megafauna “probably owe something to human expansion and hunting.” (page 81) To me this seems like correlation implying causation, which is not the case. A major factor in human beings becoming as prolific as we did is the change in global environments and a shift in global climate. Such a shift would have certainly caused rippling extinctions throughout the world, regardless of the proliferation of humans.
I disagree with the authors conclusions that a calorie is a calorie, whether in fuel or in food. Perhaps that would be accurate if we were discussing only calories lost from the environment, but the reading discusses it in terms of calories gained by human beings. In the discussions of humans as K-selected species, the reading completely fails to mention the most obvious reason that human beings were able to grow so rapidly despite our classification as a species that might not ordinarily to so: space to move. When humans began filling out the carrying capacity of a certain environment, we simply moved somewhere else. Granted, the movement consumed the environment in different ways and altered it drastically, but the text never goes into this detail.
Neanderthals are actually not an evolutionary dead end in the sense that they were wiped out by competing species or gradually died off on their own. There’s a growing body of evidence that shows that Neanderthals interbred quite readily with Homo sapiens, and thus might have naturally bred themselves into extinction (combined with other factors). It wasn’t a case of being outcompeted.
WILD LIFE OF OUR BODIES
In the introduction Dunn mentions a host of diseases that are emerging and links them to our changing relationships with the world around us, especially all the animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria that we might not be interacting with on a daily basis. However, many of his diseases do not belong on such a list. Sick cell anemia, for one, is a direct result of a genetic mutation that lends the carrier immune to malaria. Distancing ourselves from mosquitoes doesn’t cause sick cell anemia, simply living long enough to the point where the symptoms would become evident does. Autism rates are increasing, that is certainly true. But there’s much evidence for the conclusion that the reason autism rates are increasing is because we are becoming better at diagnosing it, not because the disease itself is on the rise.
Dunn’s introduction reads almost like he believes that we were healthier in the age before technology, in the age of our ancestors. He says we are headed to a time in which our daily lives are more removed from nature and we are “sicker, less happy, and more anxiety-ridden for it.” (Introduction, I can’t find the page number on the ebook). Frankly I believe his entire attitude is delusional. He briefly touches on the fact that we should avoid reverting to wilderness and the dangers associated with it, but then laments repeatedly about our increasing dissociation with nature. Life was brutal and short before we started altering nature to fit our needs. Probably the single biggest life saving feature ever implemented in human society was the chlorination of water systems. Yet chlorinating water is a great removal from Dunn’s attitude of embracing nature. There’s a reason human beings changed their environment and removed ourselves from nature. Nature isn’t some happy environment in which we all thrive and grow equally. Nature is brutal and leads to very short, hard lives.
He comments on how we as a species used antibiotics to rid ourselves of one bacteria and in the process killed off the entire microfauna in our guts. That is utterly ridiculous. Antibiotics certainly are coming around to bite us, because they’ve been abused and misused. Yet there’s a very good reason they were used in the first place. Preserving the microbiome in someone’s gut is an excellent goal, but it’s a hollow victory when that patient subsequently dies from syphilis (or some other bacterial disease, take your pick).
Here’s Ardi, for those interested in what she might look like.